American civilization is indeed unique and distinct with its advantageous geographical position and exclusive history created by brave people. It is difficult to disagree that in terms of its religious and political institutions and national spirit, the United States occupies an exclusive place among other countries. It is an entirely independent culture with its own numerous traits, mindset, and power scheme. Moreover, it is a special culture that may be compared to Rome and Greece as one of the greatest and independent civilizations in the history of the world (Mauk & Oakland, 2017). The purpose of this paper is to discuss the historical factors that contributed to the development of a unique American civilization, the benefits of U.S. geography, immigrants to the country, and the U.S. movement to the west.
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Factors that Helped Develop a Unique American Civilization between the 1600s and 1865
As mentioned above, the United States has an extraordinary history, although it was full of both favorable and dreadful events. Between the 1600s and 1865, there was a challenging period for the country when its citizens had to fight for their rights and freedom. They made everything possible to let their new civilization prosper and become equal to others and managed to succeed. Hence, during that period of time, a significant number of historical factors influenced the development of a unique country, and some of them are discussed below.
Absence of Feudalism as the Dominant System of Social Relations
The process of the emergence and development of colonies in North America took place during the transition of Europe from feudalism to capitalism, that is, in a period characterized by extreme complexity and diversity of social relations. In American political life, there were practically no right- (aristocratic) and left-wing (socialist) elements that used to dominate in most other countries (Mauk & Oakland, 2017). This may be explained by the fact that colonial America lacked feudal traditions such as hereditary nobility, state religion, and landed estates. Political conflicts in American history remained within the framework of the liberal consensus regarding representative government, individual rights, and private property (Mauk & Oakland, 2017). Therefore, the emerged national government was not as nationalistic and centralized as most of the European counterparts.
The American Revolution
It would be fair to assume that the American Revolution of 1765-1783 became the determining factor in the formation of a unique civilization of the United States and a kind of genetic code for its development. The valuable documents adopted at that time, including the U.S. Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, changed the course of history (Mauk & Oakland, 2017). At the same time, the revolution itself cleared the way for the formation of a market model of democracy (Mauk & Oakland, 2017). Moreover, the establishment of bourgeois society and state became possible, and each individual was provided with the widest opportunities for the development of energy and entrepreneurship and the realization of the desire for enrichment. The American Revolution provided a powerful impetus to the development of the United States, and its ideology became the basis of the unity of the entire nation (Mauk & Oakland, 2017). People began to talk about the natural and inalienable human rights of every person, regardless of his or her nationality.
Thomas Jefferson’s Presidency and Ideas
Thomas Jefferson was the third president of America from 1801 to 1809. He was rather convinced that new diplomacy of the U.S. was created on the confidence of a virtuous and free nation (Lepore, 2018). That very diplomacy was expected to escape corruption and war, at the same time achieving the purposes based on the universal and natural rights of people. Jefferson did not agree with the idea of the reason for the state justifying any action and decided to radically break from this traditional European concept (Lepore, 2018). Moreover, he denied the foreign policy’s general priority and the thought that the ruling family’s needs are above those of the ordinary citizens. Hence, his love for his country and the strongest desire to make it much better significantly contributed to the development of America (Lepore, 2018). Jefferson supposed and hoped that the U.S. would become the model for republicanism and democracy and the greatest empire of liberty.
American Civilization’s Geography Makes It Distinct
The geographic location of the United States has had a rather positive impact on the development of the unique American civilization. The primary peculiarity of the geography of the United States lies in the placement of almost the entire territory of the country (except for Alaska and the Hawaiian Islands) in the central part of the continent. The oceanic position has significantly contributed to the development of transport and economic relations with the states of the Eastern and Western Hemispheres (Mauk & Oakland, 2017). Sufficiently favorable climatic conditions, abundant surface waters, and the location of most of the territory on the plains are also favorable geographic factors. Finally, the absence of hostile neighbors contributed to the rapid formation of the United States and made America’s geography even more profitable.
Immigrants to America
Active immigration to the United States, which lasted for centuries, has played a significant role in the history, formation, and development of the unique American civilization. This country remains unusually attractive to immigrants due to the expected political, social, and economic opportunities of the American system (Abramitzky & Boustan, 2017). The fact that immigrants really manage to achieve immense success in politics, business, and the media testifies to the justice and equality that reigns in the United States. The immigrants were not negatively impacted by being isolated from Europe; on the contrary, this fact made it possible for them to seek new and better opportunities provided by the U.S.
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Substantial shifts in immigration policy and the changes in the underlying benefits and costs of this process have shaped the history of immigration to the U.S. Researchers note that “the high cost of crossing the Atlantic in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries gave rise to a long period of indentured immigration (1600-1800)” (Abramitzky & Boustan, 2017, p. 1312). However, in the middle of the nineteenth century, an increasing reliance on the migrant finance network and a number of shipping technology revolutions contributed to the decline of migration costs (Abramitzky & Boustan, 2017). This was the reason for a sustained Age of Mass Migration from Europe that lasted from 1850 to 1920. Unfortunately, “this period ended with the imposition of a literacy test for entry in 1917 and strict immigration quotas in 1921, which were modified (although not eliminated) in 1965” (Abramitzky & Boustan, 2017, p. 1312). Even the serious measures and severe challenges did not stop a significant number of people from trying to immigrate to the United States.
Immigrants Traveling the Long Distance to America
Those people who began to dream of a wonderful America and decided to immigrate to this country had to go through a long and difficult path, both physically and psychologically. It all started pretty simple; in the early years after the U.S. gained independence, immigrants could obtain American citizenship relatively easily (Mauk & Oakland, 2017). For example, in 1790, Pennsylvania issued citizenship to those who lived in the country for two years and paid taxes for six months.
However, after the Great French Revolution that caused mass migration from France, the U.S. authorities were forced to tighten the rules for obtaining American citizenship and rather seriously approach the development of restrictive migration legislation. Thus, in 1795, the U.S. Congress passed a law that established general requirements for obtaining citizenship (Abramitzky & Boustan, 2017). A person who wanted to become a citizen of America had to give up his or her titles and live in the country for at least five years, and from 1798 – fourteen years.
Until 1819, moving and transporting to the United States cost a lot of money. Therefore, a significant part of immigrants could not afford paying for travel through the Atlantic Ocean and made a specific agreement with carriers (Abramitzky & Boustan, 2017). According to its terms, upon the arrival of the ship, the transport companies used to put the immigrants up for public sale, that is, they gave them up into temporary slavery as independent servants.
Americans’ Movement West
In the nineteenth century, there was major American militant westward expansion. This movement had a rather significant impact on the whole country, influencing a great number of its structures. Therefore, it had a profound effect on American Indians, strengthened the United States, and also challenged it by contributing to tensions over slavery (Mauk & Oakland, 2017). It is interesting that the efforts aimed at expanding the republic by warring with Mexico and seizing western territories from the natives succeeded beyond expectations (Mauk & Oakland, 2017). Moreover, over the world’s history, only a few nations had managed to expand so successfully and quickly.
The Challenges of Building a Republic
The United States was aimed at building a republic that would cover a vast area of land. Precisely this idea and people’s desire to seek new opportunities made many Americans move west (Lepore, 2018). However, there was a high number of challenges interfering with the achievement of this goal. Those who wanted to get to the west had to face a four-month journey in rather harsh conditions and across the territory they did not know (Lepore, 2018). Because of the fictional stories about the Indians robbing and killing the Americans along their way, it was typical for the travelers to overstock ammunition and guns at the expense of other more valuable items like clothes and food. After starting their journey, settlers had to deal with numerous challenges, including dysentery, overloaded wagons, hunger leading to cannibalism, and oxen dying of thirst (Lepore, 2018). Moreover, trails hard to follow because of being poorly explained and marked, so it was common that travelers lost their way.
The Ways Americans’ Movement West Strengthened the Country
It is hard to disagree that precisely the westward expansion of the U.S. was the primary reason for the country becoming a dominant, secure, and powerful nation. Thanks to the European settlers’ bravery to migrate westward and despite the war with Natives, treacherous land, and the dangers of harsh weather, the determination of the Americans proved to be rather strong (Mauk & Oakland, 2017). The immigrants forged ahead under the manifest destiny principle and the idea that the United States is superior and has to expand its territories. The American dream to stretch from one coast to another came true even though numerous lives were lost because of weather and war (Mauk & Oakland, 2017). The country became bigger, and its people got stronger and more determined.
Some other consequences of the U.S. westward movement are connected to the perception of America by other countries and peoples. The quick and successful expansion boosted the economy, trade with other states increased, and more factories and farming appeared. European countries started considering the United States a leading, confident, and wealthy nation that was equal to them (Mauk & Oakland, 2017). Even more immigrants started wishing to move to the U.S., thinking of it as a country of strength, money, and opportunities. Finally, after all the losses and challenges, the westward expansion strengthened the country and made it possible for America to become a superpower.
The Ways Americans’ Movement West Challenged the Country
Unfortunately, in addition to strengthening the country, the expansion to the west challenged it rather seriously. This widescale and partially controversial process led to arguments about the fate of slavery in the U.S., increased tensions between the South and North, a brutal civil war, and the collapse of American democracy. Both the borders and American settlers moved westward, and a significant number of them decided to bring the slaves (Mauk & Oakland, 2017). Since Northern and Southern settlers considered the west as the place that guaranteed their utterly conflicting and distinct visions for the future of America, a severe conflict arose.
Approximately half of the white southerners owned slaves, making them work on enormous plantations. Unfortunately, even the poorest whites supported this concept because they possessed more dignity than any slave, which was the racialized aspect of slavery (Lepore, 2018). When expansion to the west began, northern settlers planned to practice subsistence farming by independent planters (Mauk & Oakland, 2017). The competitive slave labor challenged their idea, and the desire to eliminate competition formed the Free Labor movement restricting slavery. Hence, probably if not for the U.S. expansion, slavery would not have been solved for many more years.
To draw a conclusion, one may say that only a few nations had ever managed to develop and expand so successfully. In spite of a significant number of challenges and thanks to the Americans’ bravery and eternal desire for freedom, the U.S. became one of the most influential nations in the whole world. As a result of complex and contradictory processes that took place from the 1600s to 1865, a unique American civilization continued to take shape. It absorbed both the European experience and its own achievements. The development of the American nation and its specific characteristics and mentality, as well as the further formation of national myths, images, stereotypes, and traditions, had a determining influence on public opinion. Due to the immigration of people to this country, the challenges of building a republic, citizens’ movement west, and a number of other factors, there is the United States of America that is valuable for the whole world and known to every modern person.
Abramitzky, R., & Boustan, L. (2017). Immigration in American economic history. Journal of economic literature, 55(4), 1311-1345.
Lepore, J. (2018). These truths: A history of the United States. W. W. Norton & Company.
Mauk, D., & Oakland, J. (2017). American civilization: An introduction. Routledge.